It doesn't take long for those with a nose for politics to notice the bad smell. Just ask outgoing Utah County Commissioner Gary Anderson, who will be replaced Monday by newcomer Sid Sandberg.
Anderson is stepping out of the political arena after two commission terms. Overall, he has enjoyed his six years in office, but he leaves with mixed feelings about public service and its toll on one's private life."Politics stink," Anderson said last week while packing up belongings in his office. "This would be one of the best jobs in the world if not for the politics."
Nevertheless, he is proud to have served as an elected official - an experience he called exciting, varied and challenging. Anderson, who took office just before the Thistle disaster in 1983, looks back with satisfaction on his participation in several significant accomplishments.
The list includes keeping taxes down, reaching a compromise with the Utah Department of Transportation over widening Provo Canyon Highway, building the new Utah County Regional Government Center, reorganizing and upgrading several county departments, and organizing a countywide homeless task force that has drawn statewide attention.
With the exception of a temporary tax hike to fund the county's response to flooding, Anderson said, the county's tax rate has not increased the past six years. Commissioners used funding to make the county virtually flood-proof and have received additional state funding to address safety issues at the Thistle mudslide site.
"People won't stand for a tax increase," he said, adding that the past six years taught him tolerance of the public. "I've learned to recognize the public. The public is usually right. They have changed my mind for the better."
Anderson said he is especially proud of his work heading a joint County Commission-community effort to create a Provo Canyon Highway development plan that addresses safety issues as well as environmental and recreational concerns.
"That's another one they said could not be done," he said. "I'm really proud of that. The road will now enhance the canyon rather than detract from it. That was a very gratifying process."
In retrospect, Anderson said, he made mistakes and realizes he could have done some things better. But he accepted controversy as a part of his job. And he said he generally welcomed differing opinions and philosophies.
What Anderson didn't care for were the personal attacks and character assassinations that began when he sought a second commission term in 1984.
"I didn't enjoy that. And my family didn't enjoy that," he said. "I didn't see any sense in that. I thought, `I don't need this.' "
Anderson believes public officials should be held to a high standard, and he has no problem with public scrutiny. "But that's different than hunting them (politicians). That's different than maligning them."
It's little wonder, he added, that fewer and fewer good people seek public office.
"I think elected officials do not get the support they need. Who wants to become an automatic target? You not only have to be squeaky-clean, you have to be tough-skinned."
Anderson said he isn't leaving office bitter, but he laments the fact that the nature of political service leaves enemies in its wake. "Your name is known either for good or evil."
He said the Timpanogos Community Mental Health scandal is a good example. Many people held the County Commission responsible for the scandal, and Anderson said subsequent personal attacks and accompanying rumors and innuendo about his personal life reminded him of his bid for a second commission term.
"It brought to mind the negative emotions about past elections and opened old wounds. I just didn't want the hassle."
He dropped out of the race for a third term about a month after the scandal broke last April.
"I had a good experience in politics. I had a bad experience in politics. And now I'm done. My political ambitions are fulfilled."
Serving as a commissioner, Anderson said, helped him mature and reorganize his priorities, putting increased value on his family, friends, self-respect and dignity - "the important things that can't be taken away."
As for his professional future, he is considering different options but is still undecided.
"I'm not qualified to do anything. I've only been a public official and a lawyer," he joked. "I have no skills."
As he leaves office, Anderson takes his sense of humor with him - something fellow commissioners Brent Morris and Malcolm Beck said will be sorely missed. "I take my work seriously, but I don't take myself too seriously," he said.
So how will Anderson's six years of commission service be remembered? Probably for the diet he went on in 1984, he said, or his short stint as one of the "Supremes" with Beck and Morris during last October's county Halloween Party.
"I don't know if that tells you something about politics or not. Maybe."